Uncorked: Debunking three myths about wine
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
If asked to name my favorite wine writer, without hesitation it would be Matt Kramer, who became a regular contributor to Wine Spectator magazine in 1985, when he had more hair and wore Harry Potter glasses.

Kramer has written numerous books on wine, including a series of “Making Sense” books dealing with wine in general and with specific regions and countries such as California, Burgundy, Italy and Piedmont.

His most recent book is “Matt Kramer on Wine: a Matchless Collection of Columns, Essays and Observations by America’s Most Organized and Lucid Wine Writer.”

Among wine aficionados, Kramer is perhaps best known for his long-running series of essays for Wine Spectator appearing under the “drinking out loud” banner. A Dec. 4 posting titled “Wine Myths That Need Shattering,” in which Kramer takes on three myths from the wine kingdom, caught my eye.

Myth 1: Aging

The first myth has to do with predicting the age ability of wine. It is an inexact science, even for experts. I still find a pervasive misconception that wine becomes better and more valuable as it ages.

Few wines appreciate in value or taste better if held for extended periods of time. Most wines are ready to drink upon release, but this does not mean that they cannot be held for a few years for future enjoyment.

Tied to this misconception is what Kramer calls the structure myth. It is a fairly commonly held belief that in order for a wine to age well it must have structure – in layman’s terminology, that oomph that says, “I am big and bold and hold on to me because I am only going to get better with age.”

I have always thought of California zinfandels as having structure. Most are big, bold, high-alcohol fruit bombs. If structure is an indicator of a wine’s ability to age, then these zinfandels should be good for the long haul. I am finding this not to be the case. Many do not stand the test of time, and were better upon release.

Kramer says that for wines to age successfully, several things must come together, among them “balance,” which Kramer calls the wine version of dark matter.

In retrospect, perhaps those big zinfandels that failed to age gracefully lacked balance from the beginning. They were too over the top in their youth.

Myth 2: Price

The second myth Kramer discusses is the money myth: “There’s very little correlation anymore between the cost of a wine and its intrinsic quality.”

Throughout the history of this column, when reporting blind tasting results, rarely have expensive wines appreciably outperformed less expensive ones.

Less expensive wines don’t just get lucky in blind tastings. They perform well because they are skillfully made, often by those who also make more expensive wines.

Myth 3: Storage

The third myth Kramer debunks relates to humidity where a wine is stored. Many years ago, my significant other looked into turning a closet off our den into a temperature- and humidity-controlled wine closet.

Instruction from a wine cellar “how to” book suggested insulating the said room, but installing the insulation wrong side out in order to hold in moisture. Rather than running a dehumidifier, one would run a humidifier to achieve a humidity level of at least 75 percent.

As plans progressed and nightmares of black mold, stalactites and stalagmites ensued, common sense prevailed and a temperature-controlled wine cooler was ordered. For the past 20 years, the cooler has performed admirably without a humidifier.

The take away here is don’t fret needlessly over wine, how it will age and at what humidity level it should be stored. Leave these worries to serious collectors, who make up a very small percentage of the American wine-consuming public.

Remember, wines that bring the greatest pleasure are often those whose purchase does not require mortgaging one’s home and whose longevity is sufficient to survive the ride home from the supermarket.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com.
© 2013